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Why an extended field trip to the other side of the globe was an invaluable experience for an RPS ecologist

Jess Graham is a field ecologist from Newcastle, New South Wales. She was the first employee to take part in a new RPS Global Ecology Mobility Program during the UK spring-summer seasons. This is her story.

08 August 2022
Jess Graham

Newcastle

Australia

Asia Pacific

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A chance to collaborate globally

I’m the lucky one who was chosen to be part of a new exchange program with RPS’ ecology team in the United Kingdom.

The purpose of the program is to give consultants like me the opportunity to experience RPS as a global company and to collaborate and network with offices worldwide. It allows ecologists across the world to gain and share experiences, knowledge, and ideas from one another’s teams.

Jess Graham at dawn during a bat survey near Glasgow
Jess at a dawn bat survey near Glasgow, Scotland. Even in summer it gets down to about 6 degrees at dawn - so Jess made sure she had lots of layers on!

Lessons in fauna surveys

I was given the opportunity to complete an array of fauna surveys – looking at key animal species. A large portion of our ecology work in the Newcastle office (Australia) is flora-based, and because I have a background in zoology I was really excited by this opportunity.

The surveys included bats, badgers, great crested newts, reptiles, otters, and door mice. As expected, the survey techniques were quite different from the ones we use back home.

For example, bat surveys required stringent and attentive techniques, as they only have microbats in the UK (some as tiny as 4cm long!) - unlike bat sizes here in Australia, which range from microbats to large flying foxes. As a result, my bat survey and data interpretation skills have grown immensely, and I am looking forward to incorporating into our bat surveys at home.

Jess in the field collecting water samples to send away for Great Crested Newt eDNA analysis.
Jess in the field collecting water samples to send away for Great Crested Newt eDNA analysis.

The Oxford team taught me how to use mapping programs for surveys such as breeding bird assessments - another skill I look forward to applying to bird surveys in Australia.

I also discovered that while specific survey requirements and methods change depending on your location across the world, they are all built on the same general principals and goals. To efficiently and sustainably assess the suitability of an area for native species to occur and thrive.

I learned that despite being the national flower of Scotland, the Scottish thistle is a weed not just in Australia but across many other corners of the world as well, including the UK!

Exposure to renewables

The program gave me an opportunity to gain experience in renewable energy projects including solar and on and offshore wind farms. Forty percent of the UK’s energy and 28% of Australia’s comes from renewable resources, with these numbers growing. As a result, there is a rising demand for ecologists in this sector worldwide. This experience was extremely valuable both personally and for my career.

The flexibility of the program meant that I had plenty of free time to explore the UK. On my weekends I visited Dublin, London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Inverness, and lots in-between. I spent my spare time exploring new cities, climbing mountains and watching local musical talent.

Jess Graham at the peak of Ben Vane above Loch Lomond
Jess made the most of her time in the UK. She's pictured here at the peak of Ben Vane above Loch Lomond in Scotland.

Reflections

The program has inspired me to encourage more frequent meetings and collaboration across RPS offices worldwide. I hope to advocate for not only the continuation of the ecology exchange program but for the creation of other exchange programs across RPS offices.

I worked with teams from five different RPS locations throughout the program and networked with individuals from all levels of the organisation. I found that RPS teams globally are supportive, inclusive, and dynamic. This exchange program showcases our culture and how we collaborate globally.

My six-week exchange was an incredible experience. It allowed me to grow personally and professionally, network with like-minded professionals worldwide, establish friendships and gain experience in different fauna surveys and projects that are particularly significant for me. It showed me that RPS recognises the potential of individuals and supports career development, even for junior staff early in their careers like me. This program has absolutely been the highlight of my career so far.

  • Jess Graham at RPS HQ, Oxford on first day in the UK

    Day one at RPS headquarters in Abingdon

  • Ecologist Jess Graham in the field with RPS colleague, Ben, collecting water samples

    In the field with RPS colleague, Ben, collecting water samples for Great Crested Newt eDNA analysis

  • Jess on a dawn survey in Devon

    On a dawn bird walking transect survey (4.30am start) with the sun rising over Westward Ho! in Devon

  • Jess on boat cruise on Loch Ness

    On boat cruise on Loch Ness - but no luck finding Nessie!

  • Jess' pic of Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

    Jess' pic of Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

  • Jess with all her gear

    A full pack as she moves around the UK!

  • Jess Graham at RPS HQ, Oxford on first day in the UK
  • Ecologist Jess Graham in the field with RPS colleague, Ben, collecting water samples
  • Jess on a dawn survey in Devon
  • Jess on boat cruise on Loch Ness
  • Jess' pic of Castle Sinclair Girnigoe
  • Jess with all her gear